A self-destructive spiral
It's well over a month now since President Trump's historic Rose Garden Speech to bail out of Paris. It is hard to tell how the dust will settle and in which form. Will the developed-developing schism on sharing climate mitigation responsibilities widen in future? Will other nations fall into the US trails? Will the US re-enter Paris under a changed administration in future? How does it plan to align its climate action with other nations? Much' debate has been raging all over the world along these lines. Being the main benefactor to the UN (China and Russia provide support only sporadically), will the US stance affect implementation of the Paris rules?
What's most worrying is that Trump administration has already held up a pretty morbid demeanour to applied R&D in the national science sector that actually reflects its utter reluctance (or stubbornness?) to take climate change seriously. There's already been a cut of about 11 per cent in the 2018 budget for the National Science Foundation (NSF), the umbrella organisation to delegate various science initiatives, including climate R&D. A climate musical and wastage of taxpayer's money, this is how the Director of the US Office of Management and Budget, brands the NSF climate initiatives.
Naturally, cuts on NSF supports cascade on all forms of US environment and healthcare research. Substantial cuts have been announced for the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as well as the National Institutes of Health. These two have long been the global leaders in their own fields of research and now will be forced to curtail their agenda. For EPA this means laying off up to about 3200 staff, out of about 15,000, and trimming R&D budget to $250 million (from $483 in 2016).
Even support for EPA 'superfund sites' (one of the EPA's hallmark programs aimed at cleaning-up hazardous waste sites) will take a nosedive by about 25 per cent in the new budget plan. In the new budget, EPA will have to cut down expenses on their climate data collection process, which means efforts to gather empirical evidence in favour, or against climate research will be restricted in the current regime. Overall, the funding will plummet to $5.7 billion, from the existing $8.3 billion, a record cut in the past four decades. Ironically, it was a member of the EPA itself, Scott Pruitt, who was most instrumental in dismantling President Obama's Clean Power Plan (one that actually led way to Paris in 2015), as much as hastening the US withdrawal from Paris Accord.
And it was no less a shocker when the entire Sea Grant Program of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was canned. This particular program supports well over 30 US colleges and universities towards applied research, education, and training on a diverse suite of ocean and coastal topics. These are critical to understanding changes in ocean dynamics and sea level fluctuations due to climate change. NOAA has already predicted a 3-7 feet rise in sea-level between 2050 and 2100 that may drown vast reaches of US coastline unless stringent climate actions are instituted.
And this is not all. The 2018 budget axed child health insurance program by 20 per cent for the next two fiscal years. In a similar way, the US Medicaid facility has been reduced by about $800 billion. This will potentially throw 70 million low-income adults, children, disabled people and senior citizens into despair. Funny for Trump administration, when numerous studies around the world expound on negative corollaries between health (heat stress, infection, water pollution) and climatic aberrations (drought, flood, snow melt etc.) he decides to go otherwise for US citizens.
Scientists believe that for children and underprivileged population in particular such 'inaction' may lead to appalling ends including chronic psychosomatic dysfunctions.
And this is not all. Recent developments include a review on a bunch of US national monuments and heritage sites to justify their 'need' in view of opening up more lands for oil/gas drilling operations. Moratoriums on coal mining activities on federal lands have already been lifted. Measures to curb methane emissions (a greenhouse gas several times more potent than carbon dioxide to cause global warming), has been constrained. New standards to improve vehicular fuel efficiency have been suspended. How do these sound for US climate action?
At Rose Garden, President Trump was vociferous about redeeming US heritage as the global leader and ensuring US interest above all (exact words used by his predecessor G.W Bush while bailing out of the Kyoto Agreement in the early 2000s). But how are all these going to hold up US interests? Rampant budget cuts in R&D, including healthcare, means rapid draw downs in the US job market. How will it affect the vast workforce engaged in various research projects in and outside the US? What will happen to all those students/researchers supported by various state/federal initiatives?
Basically, under the current administration, the whole of US R&D sector is 'forced' through a paradigm shift in its priorities, climate, and environment in particular. Even the United States Geological Survey (USGS) is to suffer a 15 per cent rollback in its allocations. The USGS is among the global leaders of its kind in geologic and environmental research spanning across disciplines. The question is, under the present circumstances, how many water resources research studies will receive federal support? How many studies will be conducted on drought-food-land nexus? How many on water-energy-food-human? Or climate-health? Or carbon crediting? Or land use change-GHG emission? Each of these has its impact on human sustainability quotients and any 'offsets' therein may alter courses of humanity, if not addressed with proper caution.
So, was Trump's call against Paris justified? Furthermore, as the Trump administration believes at root, is climate change for real at all? Hope we don't have to answer it by living it ourselves. Just to mention a little fact here, NOAA's estimates reveal that should sea levels continue to rise due to global warming and polar thaw, one of President Trump's resorts itself, Ma-a-Lago in Palm Beach Florida, will be under water as well. This estate is actually the President's so-called 'winter' White House. Should such flooding events really occur, vast expanses through South Florida will be lost for good. It is just as Democrat Bill Nelson describes- sitting at ground zero, awaiting doomsday.
Will the US call be a Frankensteiner on itself? When weighed up against ignorance, stubbornness, and inaction in face of empirical evidence in favour of a changing climate, it points no other way actually.
(Dr. Sriroop Chaudhuri and Dr. Mimi Roy are faculty, Environmental Studies at OP Jindal Global University, Sonipat, Haryana, and Co-Directors to the Center
for Environment, Sustainability and Human Development.The views expressed are strictly personal.)